Northern Macedonia as a new point of reconciliation in the Balkans
Writes: Denko Maleski
My father, one of the founders of the modern Macedonian state and nation, did not want to talk about the history of Macedonia. When his friend Professor Canko Hristov encouraged me to devote myself to studying our past, he was not happy for this to be my future academic job. Namely, he wrote, talked and worked with unprecedented glow for the present and future of Macedonia and Yugoslavia. Without our work, future generations have nowhere to stand on, he once said. The motto of this generation of partisans was the same as in the other republics of the federation: there is no Macedonia (i.e., Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina or Slovenia), without Yugoslavia and no Yugoslavia without Macedonia. When Yugoslavia disappeared, our task was to deny it. That there can be a Macedonian state and a nation even without Yugoslavia. Finally, objectively speaking, we did not have a choice. Thrown into the waves of international politics, we had to swim on our own. And we did it. Macedonia became a member of the United Nations, the universal organization of states in the world. However, we cannot deny the partisan generation, despite some of the Macedonian politicians and their games with anti-communism and antiquisation, because without their work, we have nothing to stand on and we sink deep into decay.
The story is not so complex that today Kammenos and Karakachanov cannot understand it and is not as simple as the Greek and Bulgarian nationalists portray it. Born in 1919 in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, written in books like Vladimir Maljevic, the partisan generation of Vlado Maleski went to Serbian schools, for when the crucial times arrived, to absolve our people’s historical dilemma: does Macedonian nation exist or not. There is a Macedonian nation, the Communists will say, resolving the national question of the multinational federation Yugoslavia, but they will not be left alone in words. They will make huge personal efforts to make this happen. Comintern? Forget the ideological sign, think of the language of international politics, the language of power, and say that the Macedonian state and nation, within Yugoslavia, was created with the support of Russia. Fair, isn’t it? The great powers have always determined the framework of world politics. So be careful not to blame, because it is just like blaming America for the fact that its help was crucial to the survival and international recognition of the very state in the early 1990s.
Macedonian partisans proclaimed the existence of the Macedonian nation, as I later understood, even before reading “For the Macedonian Affairs” by Krste Misirkov. How is it possible, I wondered? The answer is simple: the same trouble produced the same solution. When we follow our historical national line today, it becomes clear to us that the relations between the Balkan states and those among the great powers have excluded the possibility of achieving the Pan-Bulgarian idea – all Bulgarians in one state. The failed attempts, after a series of bloody suppressed uprisings, the Macedonian Bulgarians, as they called others abroad and called themselves these inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire, produced the alternative: their own nation and state. In the case of Misirkov and the partisans, the primary concern was how to preserve our people and their territory.
So, the terrifying circumstances before the Balkan Wars and those before the Second World War produced the formula for salvation: to take the fate into their own hands. Today, when our state, our nation and our language are internationally recognized, that line is much clearer to us. This is because, as Hobsbaum writes, the true nation can be recognized and recognized only a posteriori. Misirkov, in order to save his Macedonia from divisions, advocates “national separatism” for abandoning the Pan-Bulgarian idea and proclaiming a Macedonian (Slavic) nation with its own Macedonian language. Although all the warnings in his modern analysis of international politics, “For Macedonian Affairs” written 115 years ago, are correct, the idea had not been realized. Behind the idea of a Macedonia, namely, there was no power. Beyond the idea of divisions, however, there was the power of the surrounding states. A few decades later, for the “southern Serbs”, the Macedonian partisans, the dilemma was not as severe as Misirkov’s. They knew they were not Serbs and wished their nation and state. Thus, partisans managed to realize the idea of Misirkov on part of the territory of geographic Macedonia, for which the Carnegie Commission, appalled by the barbarism of the ethnic Balkan wars, wrote that the proclamation of a sovereign state of the Ottoman province of Macedonia would have been the most desirable and the best solution.
Macedonia is ours, today the Greek nationalists chant, and the Bulgarians respond that it is theirs. However, the term brings confusion, which Macedonia they talk about. In fact, if they talk about this Macedonia, Northern Macedonia, it is ours. Obviously, Balkan nationalisms are still alive and kicking. Not yet out of the dispute with Greece, Bulgaria is behind us. Serbia, which has other priorities, keeps its eye on us. History is repeating in front of our eyes. But in conditions when we have our own state and our nation and support from the United States and the EU, we have to quietly face the challenges that everyone is exposed to in international politics. And we need to know that for the first time in history we are at an advantage: real politics starts from what is and not from what one would like it to be. Real politics starts from what we are, not from what one wants us to be. And, the reality is that there is a Macedonian state, a Macedonian language and a Macedonian nation. Everything else is fading ahead of this reality. Also the Republic, and not only Balkan nationalisms, is alive and kicking.
We made friends with the Greeks; we will make it with the Bulgarians, too. Northern Macedonia as the new point of historical reconciliation among the Balkan people? It sounds amazing, but it can be exactly like that.
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